Syabas Popcorn Hour A-400 preview: now with more apps

The Syabas Popcorn Hour A-400 has already been announced at last year's IFA show in Germany.

Although a small number of distributors were allowed to start selling it on December 1, but it was more akin to a public beta as the final version of the firmware was to be released at a later point with the official launch being scheduled for 20 December.

So, after a number of firmware updates, now it's finally time for our review of the Popcorn Hour A-400.

Media players arrived en masse around 2007 and may have passed their peak by now because most of the features they pioneered are now integrated into televisions, Blu-ray players and home cinema sets, in a way that's good enough for most consumers.

That said, those products do have limitations, as most consumer electronics can't handle M2TS in VIDEO_TS folders, not to mention ISO files and HD audio streams not originating from a Blu-ray disc. Then there's of course also the niche audience for whom "good enough" isn't nearly good enough.

Syabas is one of the few companies that tries to fill that void. In 2007, it released the first Popcorn Hour media player, called the A-100. It will be interesting to see how long media players like this will still be made as the development of new media player chips at Realtek has reportedly been put on ice, because they're apparently unable to acquire the necessary licenses for formats including Blu-ray.

And selling a media player that doesn't support the main formats is pointless. Sigma has encountered similar issues, as the latest generation chips does not fully support Blu-ray (there's no support for menus or BD Live) possibly because the Blu-ray consortium refused to give out a license.

Sigma still managed to develop a new line of media processors that support 3D in Blu-ray quality. Realtek has had one available already, as you can read in our reviews of the Xtreamer Prodigy and Mede8er MED1000X3D. One of Sigma's newest top-of-the-range processors is used for the A-400. So if you're looking for a media player, is the Popcorn Hour A-400 worth the asking price of just under £250?

It's nice to see that the Popcorn Hour A-400 has an HDMI 1.4 port for HD picture and sound, along with coax and optical audio outputs for an S/Pdif audio signal. The media player has a USB 2.0 host port for external media files, a combined USB 2.0/eSATA port, an SD card reader, a gigabit ethernet port, a USB 3.0 slave port, and room for a hard drive. There's no wireless connection, but you can add one with the optional accessory WN-160, which is a WiFi USB adapter. For a product in this price class we do expect a built-in wireless chip, preferably a dual-band (mini-)PCI-Express module with two antennas.

Loyal Hardware.Info readers will know that most media players can be divided into two categories, those with Realtek hardware, and those with hardware from Sigma Designs. Syabas has worked together with Sigma since day one, so it's no surprise that the A-400 also runs on a Sigma processor, in this case the SMP8911.

That's a dual-core processor with built-in VXP video processor. That is supposed to address one of the traditional weak points of Sigma-based media players: video post processing. The player has 512 MB of RAM and 256 MB of flash storage for firmware and apps.

The casing of the media player was designed and manufactured by Silverstone, a chassis brand with experience in making attractive HTPC chassis and compact mini-ITX cases.

You can tell the pedigree by looking at the design of the A-400, it's made of thick aluminium which turns the entire chassis into a giant heat-sink.

That's why a warning label states that the media player should not be fully enclosed as it still needs air to cool down. You can read the rest of this review on Hardware.Info.